Taoism, Aldous Huxley, and Learning Jiu Jitsu

Updated: Oct 14

Students often ask, “How do I get better at Jiu Jitsu?” The answer is as true as it is simple: by practicing Jiu Jitsu.

We live in a world of instant gratification and an insatiable western mind. We want to stand a top a might castle without having built its foundation. This mindset is a great obstacle in our development.

The advances in technology have brought us many ways to gain knowledge about Jiu Jitsu: YouTube videos, podcasts, magazines, and instructional DVDs. These are all valuable tools in the students arsenal. But the aim of the student is not to know Jiu Jitsu, but to understand it.

And understanding can only come from direct experience.

The Lesson from Eastern Philosophy

There is a profound line in the “Tao Te Ching” which reads,

“Investigating it with a lot of talk is not like holding to the center.”

We tend to live in a world of abstractions, representations of direct experience. We cling to words as truth and forget that they are a means to the truth. Words (and teachings) are a poor substitute for direct experience.

In his essay “Knowledge and Understanding,” Aldous Huxley writes:

“Knowledge is always in terms of concepts and can be passed on by means of words or other symbols. Understanding is not conceptual, and therefore cannot be passed on. It is an immediate experience, and immediate experience can only be talked about (very inadequately), never shared.”

With access to so much information, it has never been easier to become a dilettante, having superficial knowledge of many things but no genuine understanding of anything.

We are surrounded by knowledge but are longing for understanding. The problem is, understanding can only be derived from direct experience. If knowledge is something which exists in the mind, understanding takes root in one’s entire being.

So many of the great parables and myths of religion and philosophy reveal this.

The Buddha is supposed to have never taught what he found in the moment of his awakening, as he knew that teaching would simply become an obstacle for others to find their own understanding. The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. The finger, like all teachings and representations, must ultimately be transcended for direct experience.

Applying This Understanding to Jiu Jitsu

All of the alternative methods of Jiu Jitsu education are supplements to your training. It is your training which will yield your greatest fruit, because direct experience is the only road which leads to understanding. Your instructor can pass on their knowledge of Jiu Jitsu but not their understanding.

This is something we must cultivate ourselves.

I have spent the last decade devoted to Jiu Jitsu and academic study. The more depths I explore, the more I become aware of my own shallowness. I have been training under Ricardo Almeida since the beginning, an opportunity I did not deserve, and I have sought to make the most of my training. But Jiu Jitsu is as vast as I am limited. I am acutely aware that I have barely grasped its surface.

Isaac Newton summed up the perils of studying the infinite when he said,

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

That great ocean of Jiu Jitsu lies undiscovered before each of us.

Don’t seek knowledge. Seek to understand. Only then will Jiu Jitsu reveal itself.

If you want to read Chris’s latest book on personal development, check it out here.

If you would like to be coached by Chris personally, click here.

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